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Lawn Long Gone July 17, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Gardening.
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36 Hours Before Houseguests Arrive

36 Hours Before Houseguests Arrive

It was already 9 a.m. and Steve aka The Yard Guy still hadn’t arrived with his crew.  I was always under the impression that on a hot day, it’s best to get an early start in the yard.  Before the sun’s rays turn to UV 10 Death Rays. Evidently, Steve hadn’t heard of this, so I thought it best to call and give him a head’s up. 

“Hey, what’s happening?” Steve said, sounding way too casual. 

“What’s happening is nothing is happening because you’re not here,” I replied, trying to sound casual though my teeth grinding was now audible.

“I’ll stop by in 10 minutes so we can talk about what you want to do,” he said.  Click.  Wait a minute.  He’d said, “I” and not “we.”  What was there to talk about?  It was Monday morning and my friends from England were arriving in 36 hours.  I called him right back.  

“You’re not just coming by yourself,” I said.  The desperation in my voice was now palatable.

“I’m bringing the guys,” Steve reassured me.

Now, I’m not one of those conspiracy nuts, but this is my theory.  I believe when I called Steve, he and “the guys” were probably parked around the corner.  I imagine they were just finishing their breakfast burritos while waiting for my panicked call.  This way, at the last possible minute, Steve and his crew arrive like the cavalry come to save the day.  That is if the cavalry travelled in a big white dump truck.  

Just hearing the sound of Steve’s truck rumbling out in the alley set me to salivating like Pavlov’s dog.  I’m convinced this is all part of Steve’s Master Plan.  Can you see how brilliant it is?

“So what were you thinking you’d like to do?” Steve asked as though this was the first time we’d ever talked about the job.  

“We’d talked about DG,” I reminded him.  DG being decomposed granite, but if you want to sound yard savvy, you have to speak in acronyms.  Steve walked over to the cab of the truck, reached inside and threw a switch.  A mountain of DG poured out in the alley.  Talk about dramatic effect.  Voila!  I say that only because it sounds more dramatic than, “Aqui!”

Meanwhile, Steve’s crew had swarmed over the backyard, devouring all traces of rocks, roots, and the dreaded grass.  They moved so quickly, if I blinked, it was like watching time-lapse photography.  I retreated inside to sit in front of the fan.  “I think Steve is going to pull this off,” I said to my husband, Richard.  

I spoke too soon.  Here’s what Richard swears he observed.  Only two hours later, one of Steve’s guys gave a signal.  Richard even demonstrated by cupping his hands over his mouth.  It sounds sort of like an owl hoot, “Who, Who!  Who, Who!”  Indians always use this signal in the movies, even in the later films where they’re Native Americans.  According to Richard’s account, all of the workers immediately grabbed their tools and ran out the back gate. We’re talking minutes here.  Que pasa?

I tried to be optimistic. It was lunchtime and Steve’s truck was still parked in the alley.  But where were my worker bees?  “Maybe they got called away on a lawn emergency,” Richard offered.  But the only lawn emergency I know of goes by the acronym INS.   

Three hours later, Richard spotted one of Steve’s workers in the alley and shadowed him.  The man entered the back gate of the house two doors down.  Richard came home and announced,  “We have competition!”  In movies, when you want to find out who’s behind something, they always say, “Follow the money.”  

Well, the money led to Chris and Chuck, my two gay (as in two disposable incomes) neighbors.  They were hosting a sit-down party for 100 the night after our stand-up party for 35.  Their guests would be served $10 wine.  My guests would be shown where the beer can opener and corkscrew were.  At the last minute, they’d decided to tear out their front lawn and put in a new one.  There was also the small detail of having someone scale a 100-foot palm tree so it could be lit so as to be visible from outer space.  Ka-ching! This constituted a lawn emergency, so my backyard had been triaged.  

Unfortunately, Steve had dramatically dumped the load of DG out in the alley in front of our garage door, so we were trapped.  Late Monday afternoon he sent some guys down to shovel the DG to the side.  The cavalry then retreated in their white truck.  “Manana!” Steve shouted as he disappeared in a cloud of dust.

I woke up Tuesday and felt as though I’d received a shot of adrenalin directly into my heart (a la Pulp Fiction).   We had 12 hours. To ratchet the stress level up a notch, Richard was trying to finish the guest bathroom next to the garage.  It was tiled with slate and featured two holes.  We’d called Luis from El Salvador to help paint and grout.

My friend Christine called and made the mistake of asking how I was doing. I said, “It’s December 24th at the North Pole and all of the elves are on crack.” Alarmed, she drove over to see for herself.  There hadn’t been so Latinos from different countries assembled in one place since the School of the Americas disbanded.

One hour before we had to leave for the airport, Steve’s guys finally rolled the pieces of the fountain into position.  This was akin to throwing Stonehenge together in a day.  Richard flipped the switch, and water began to trickle.  We had lift off!

Welcome to Sunny California!

The Zen of Recycling July 15, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Going Green.
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“I’m recycling the dog food cans now,” my husband cheerily informed me this morning.  That’s just the sort of thing I want to hear before my morning coffee has kicked in.  Richard was enthusiastically rinsing out a can, using enough water to take the level of the California Aqueduct down a notch or two.  

My British houseguests have left for a scenic drive up the coast and I’ve been left with the evidence of our wild week of entertaining.  Mainly the green glass kind of evidence.  I went out to survey the damage this morning. There’s a mountain of plastic bags.  Unless I haul it off, it shall be featured on future physical maps of California and known as K3.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m all for recycling.  It’s just that we’re wallowing in it. We used to just make a semi-annual caravan to the recycling center at the neighborhood supermarket.  They took aluminum cans, glass bottles, and plastic.  Period.  And the plastic could be iffy because, depending on the day of the week, it had to have either an even number, an odd number, or a prime number.  I always returned home with sticky hands and a bag of “rejects.”

I’m proud to say I’ve been cutting up plastic six-pack rings for years so those playful dolphins and other less playful and not so photogenic sea creatures wouldn’t become entangled in them.  I did hear a comedian say he liked to cut only five out of the six rings in keeping with Darwin’s survival of the fittest.  Evidently there are fish swimming in the shallow end of the gene pool as well.

But then we were introduced to the Recycling Center at Caltech where you can recycle everything.  EVERYTHING!  Life hasn’t been the same since.  You can either toss all of your recycling in the trunk of your car and sort it out when you get there or act like a professional and pre-sort.  Note: If you’re of the former school, make sure the entire trunk is encased in heavy plastic or in summer months you’ll smell like a wino on wheels.

We haven’t quite figured out a sorting system yet.  I’ve pulled out an old term paper from college and think that we need to go with Roman numerals like V for plastic and then we can group the various sub-species of plastic in bins with lower-case alphabet letters.  I’d like to see you come up with a better idea.

My friend Rebecca, who teaches the class next to mine, enthusiastically launched a recycling program at our school last year.  Classes were to take turns walking the recycling over to Caltech. That way students could participate and develop the recycling habit. Teachers and students enthusiastically carted piles/wads/rolls/spit wads of paper to a designated spot, conveniently located just outside my classroom door.  

But it soon became apparent that the weekly trips to Caltech couldn’t keep pace with the sheer volume of paper generated.  It made me realize not only how much paper we go through, but how much is wasted.  Don’t even get me started on the styrofoam lunch trays that pile up in the cafeteria every day along with enough sporks to…well, you get the picture.  And it’s not a pretty one.    

The week before Open House, when a school is supposed to ooze, “I’m ready for my close-up,” it looked like a New York City garbage scow outside my class.  All that was missing were the seagulls and their arrival was imminent. The pile of papers miraculously disappeared before Open House in a frantic last-minute recycling mission.  At least I’m hoping that’s where they ended up. There’s some things you’re better off not knowing.

So, K3 awaits.  I think I’ll snap on some of those latex gloves so I feel like a forensic crime scene investigator and not a lowly person with only a B.S. degree (as in Bottle Sorter).  But then I’ll have to recycle the latex gloves.

Going Green July 5, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Art, Going Green.
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Our artist friend Bobby, who lives in Las Vegas, has upped the ante in the “Lawn Be Gone” challenge.  Tired of shelling out $225 to water his lawn, Bobby pulled the plug in March.  His water bill for June was a whopping $9. Since spray painting his lawn, a growing number of people are pulling over to snap photos. And no, he doesn’t just stand out front waiting for these photo ops.  Bobby’s story was featured this week in the Las Vegas Sun.

Bobby has spent the last decade in Vegas painting custom interiors and murals at the major casinos.  Years back, Bobby lured Richard up to Vegas to help design the interior of the Voodoo Lounge at the Rio and Richard still has the T-shirt to prove it.  Nothing like starting to paint at 10 p.m. and knocking off for breakfast. Construction was 24/7 so the artists were relegated to the night shift.  Richard remembers that the only place he could go in Las Vegas to escape the sound of the slots beside Trader Joes, was the Las Vegas Public Library.  

To see more of Bobby’s work (on canvas):


Lawn Be Gone! June 26, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Gardening, Going Green.
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I should have listened to my son, Taylor, years ago when he suggested we just pour bleach onto the lawn to kill it.  Of course, his motives were not altruistic or even vaguely environmental.  He just hated getting up early. Fast forward ten years.  It seems that all my neighbors are going native, and we’ve finally decided to join them.

My neighbors down the street, Travis and Nichole, were the first to stop the IV drip of precious water to their lawn, which takes up an entire corner lot. This was cause for alarm.  My next door neighbor, Dex, took us aside one day.  “Have you talked to Travis and Nichole lately?” he asked.  “I’m a little concerned,” he added.  “Have you seen their lawn?  I think you might want to go round and check on them.”  I knew this was planned obsolescence on their part, so I played dumb.

You have to understand that Dex takes pride in still doing his own yard work.  He’s retired.  He wears the weekly chore of mowing, edging, and raking like a badge of honor.  Maybe that’s because he was invested in Boy Scouts for so many years.

Dex confided that when someone’s lawn looked as bad as Travis and Nichole’s did, it was possible that something “had happened” to them.  He was giving me permission to be the first one to discover their decomposing bodies.  When I finally told him what they were up to, he looked relieved, then puzzled.  Why would someone want to roll up the green carpet that is the hallmark of suburban living?

We’ve decided to leave the lawn out front alone – for now.  For one thing, our mower is almost new.  We traded in the old gas hog two years ago, when the city encouraged people to upgrade to an electric mower for $100.  We now have a mint-green lawn mower that looks like it was made by Fischer-Price.  It doesn’t roar and belch gas fumes.  Instead, it contentedly hums along for a week a time before requiring a recharge.  I feel like a model citizen whenever I’m out front using it.  Look at me!  I’m saving the planet!

The back lawn is an entirely different matter.  I’m tired of filling in the bare spots between the stepping stones with plugs of grass like a highly trained technician does at regular meetings of the “Hair Club for Men.”  We have a large patio.  But beyond the arbor, anything goes, as opposed to anything grows.

My approach is to simply rip out the grass and spread the dirt around like one big zen garden.  Bring in a load of decomposed granite and plug in a fountain.  Oh, and I’ll take some of those native plants too, the ones with the large saber-like leaves that you could become impaled on.  Voila!  

My husband is appalled by my lack of foresight.  He feels the need to purchase a hardcover book at Vroman’s so he can pour over gorgeous photographs of other people’s gardens.  Most likely, other rich people’s gardens.  People for whom price is no object.  Then he wants to spend his spare time (as in, I have no time to spare) working on a master plan.  Then…you get the drift.  At that rate, I can just wait for global warming to do the job.

Nichole actually took a class in how to plant a native garden and carefully selected the plants that are just now starting to fill in.  Why reinvent the wheel?  Talent borrows, genius steals.  No, I didn’t say that.  That’s T. S. Elliot, and I think he was onto something.  Our other neighbors, Stuart and Brenda, showed us their new backyard, which is awash in pea gravel and square pavers that float serenely in a sea of round black pebbles.  It helps that Stuart is a film set designer and has an amazing eye, along with a cache of props he’s collected off of TV shows.  I have Cost Plus.

Let’s just do it!  I think Richard is starting to budge.  I reminded him of how much it would cost in gas alone just to drive to Vroman’s to buy a book. He’s starting to cave…To Be Continued.